4,000 Islands in Laos at Don Khone and Don Det
Southern Laos is often overlooked in favor of visiting more popular destinations in the north, like the beautiful Luang Prabang or the capital city, Vientiane. However, the southern region is home to many natural places to explore and get lost in. One of the lesser-known places in Southern Laos is the 4,000 Islands area, also called “Si Phan Don”. Located at the southernmost tip of the country bordering Cambodia, only the most adventurous travelers would make it down there in the past.
Traverse through Don Khone and Don Det, the larger-main islands out of the 4,000 tiny islands scattered throughout the vast Mekong Delta. As the first place in Laos where a railway was constructed in the late 1800s, there are remnants of French Colonial architecture found all over the islands. Touch down at the Old French Port and pass the concrete steps and arches into Don Det village. Since Cars are not permitted on the islands, you can relax and kick back in a peaceful countryside manner that Laos is famous for. Soak up the laid-back river atmosphere and enjoy the slow life.
We recommend biking to the Don-Det-Don-Khone Railway and learning about France’s history in the region. In an effort to connect the different regions of French Indo-China, the French planned to transport two gunboats to secure the Mekong River. After attempting to navigate through the dangerous rapids known as the Khon Papheng falls, the French officials knew they had to find another way to bypass the Mekong river route and haul the 22-ton boats.
As a result, the railway project was kicked off by the Mekong Exploration Commission, a group expedition led by French colonial officers. The team worked with Messagieres Fluviales de Cochinchine to help construct the railway. Eventually, they were successful in laying down 3km of rail tracks from Marguerite Bay to Ban Khone in less than six months. Even though the gunships eventually sank near Luang Prabang, the railway continued to be widely used until the early 1930s.
By the early 1900s, this route was used to transfer spices, hardwood, ivory, and other precious metals from Laos into Cambodia downstream: as a result, more train tracks were put down, making the route a total of 7 km. With this expansion, the Old French Railway bridge was constructed in 1910. The thirteen-arched, reinforced concrete viaduct spans 170 meters long. You can walk or bike around the railway tracks and cross the Old French Railway bridge even though the tracks have been removed from the bridge.
Nowadays, Don Det and Don Khone are still teeming, full of history with colonial buildings, and remnants of the old railways. The old steam locomotive, built by the French, still stands at the train station caked in rust as it represents a history forgotten by many travelers.
If you have any questions about traveling to Don Det and Don Khone, or anywhere else in Laos, please contact our team at [email protected].